Athens has been on my bucket list for ages. When I found out that TBEX was holding its Europeon conference in Athens I signed up immediately. Knowing that my time was limited in Athens, I signed up for a walking tour of central Athens offered by Athens Walking Tours. It was a five hours tour walking around some of the central highlights. Here’s a quick overview of some of the classic sites in central Athens that we toured. These are the sites to see in Athens if you have just a few hours if, for example, you are on an Athens shore excursion.
Arch of Hadrian
The Arch of Hadrian, most commonly known in Greek as Hadrian’s Gate, is a monumental gateway resembling – in some respects – a Roman triumphal arch.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is known as the largest temple in Greece and perhaps the slowest construction project in all of history. The massive ancient building took nearly seven centuries to complete. The building originally began in 515 BC by order of the Peisistratids, the tyrants that ruled Athens at the time, but work stopped on the temple after their downfall in 510 BC. Work resumed in 175 BC with the patronage of the King Antiochus IV, but was halted 10 years later when he died. Under Emperor Hadrian, in AD 132, the temple was finally completed and dedicated to Olympian Zeus. Today, the temple is a ruin with only 15 of 104 huge columns still standing. The cella and two large statues which were in the center are long gone. The columns are still impressive, each rises 17 meters (57 feet) into the air.
The Theater of Dionysus is the birthplace of theater. It’s where all the big plays opened. The theater was mostly used during their early spring festival in honor of Dionysus, god of theater, religious ecstasy, grape harvest, wine, and ritual madness; the plays were considered homage to him. The city leaders would pick a rich person each year and invite him to “sponsor” ie, underwrite the festival each year. Think of this theatre as Broadway, it’s where everything opened.
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Also called the “Herodeon”, the Athens Odeon of Herode Atticus dates back to 161 AD, when it was built by Herodes Atticus to honor his wife Regilla, who had passed away a few years earlier. The structure was used as a theater in ancient Athens for various plays and music concerts, and it could seat up to 5,000 people.
The Parthenon, Acropolis
The Parthenon is located on the Acropolis, a hill that overlooks Athens. The temple was built to honor the goddess Athena Parthenos, the patron of Athens, to thank her for protecting the city during the Persian Wars. Originally designed by the architects Iktinos and Kallikrates, the Parthenon originally held all kinds of treasures, but the main attraction was a huge statue of Athena that was made out of gold and elephant ivory, designed by the famous sculptor Pheidias. The Parthenon dates back to 447 BC, and it was actually built over another temple that is often referred to as the Pre-Parthenon.
The Erechtheum, Ionic temple of Athena is a temple on the Acropolis across from the Parthenon. It’s most striking feature are the six columns. Each column is a draped female figure. It’s made from Pentelic marble. It’s construction dates back to c. 421 and 405 when the earlier temple to Athena was destroyed by the Persian invasion. The Erechtheum was once a sanctuary dedicated to Athena Polias, Erechtheus and Poseidon. Visitors could access the shrine to Athena by going through the eastern portico. The northern portico leads to the western cella. Its most striking feature are the six statues of maidens, called the Caryatids, which function as columns, supporting the roof. The temple was constructed between 421 and 404 BC next to its predecessor, which was destroyed by the Persians in 480 BC.
The Acropolis Museum is an archaeological museum focused on the findings of the archaeological site of the Acropolis of Athens. The base hovers over the excavation on more than 100 slender concrete pillars. This level contains the lobby, temporary exhibition spaces, museum store, and support facilities. The museum has an amazing collection. One of the most striking architectural aspects is that it sits above a live archeological site which can be seen through the glass floors on the bottom floor of the museum. You can just look down and see real ruins which they are still working on excavating.
The walking tour of Athens was amazing in that in a few hours, we covered so many great sites. If you only have a few hours, perhaps your cruise ship is in Athens for the day and you are setting up a private tour or excursion. these are the sites to see. Go shop elsewhere, Athens is a city where the sites are the thing.
Disclosure and Thank you. The Athens Walking Tour Company provided the tour free to myself and other travel bloggers. But the opinions expressed above are my own. A special thanks to Athens Walking Tour Company and especially to our tour guide, Aristotle, who is an expert in Athens archeology and who maintains his own blog on Greek History and Archaeology.
What’s your favorite site in Athens?